Billy Eckstine Biography
Died : March 8, 1993 // Pittsburgh, PA, United States
Eckstine, the son of a Pittsburg chauffeur and seamstress, began his singing career in a church bazaar at the age of eleven. The family moved to Washington, where he ran errands at the Howard Theater for Ethel Waters- earning enough pocket money to enter a talent contest, which he won in 1932.
He quit school and joined the Tommy Miles Band, learning the trumpet to support his vocals. Bandleader Earl Hines heard Eckstine at the De Lizza Club and added him to his band's line-up, with whom he recorded 'Skylark' which outsold the Glenn Miller version. Eckstine's growing success enabled him to open his own club on New York's 52nd Street, which eventually closed due to crippling entertainment taxes. He then took to the road with his own historic band, helping pave the way for the bebop/modern jazz style movement with its musical arranger John Birks Gillespie.
With Eckstine handling the vocals, along with Sarah Vaughn, the line-up included trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham; saxophonists Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, Lucky Thompson, Charlie Parker and Leo Parker; drummer Art Blakey; bassist Tommy Potter; pianist John Malaclin and arrangers Budd Johnson, Tadd Dameron and Jerry Valentine. In the three and a half years this band was together Eckstine made his mark as a sell-out concert singer, as well as starting fashion trends with his sharp-suited dress style that would hold him in good stead throughout his popular solo career.